Celestial navigation is a fun activity that is easy to do at home, and a great opportunity to talk about the stars and our place in the universe.
In this kids science activity, we actually navigated to treasure by lights hung high up, instead of navigating by the stars. Why? Because there isn’t quite a motivator for kids than to unlock a treasure chest. It is more hands on than looking at a single star and definitely easier for littler hands to enjoy the STEM activity.
If you want to recreate unlocking a treasure chest you will need to have a chest, lock with a changeable combination, and some treasure. You could also use the numbers to create a secret code that gets kids into a special item like a movie, brownies, or one on one time with you!
To do this activity you will need two of our printouts – the Making a Sextant page (which has the sextant template) and the navigating by the stars page (for them to write down their special codes on).
The night before choose a high light at your house or street lamp and mark out a few spots for them to check their position at. This works best with one far away (which will give a low reading, one int he middle, and one very close so they look almost straight up. We had a hill to use which let us find four unique numbers to write down, but even two or three numbers is a great start!
Kids will cut, decorate and assemble their sextant, and use the straw at each marked location to spot the light. Then they pinch the string and take the reading to their secret code! We have “red” and “blue” locations if you wanted to use colored lights and have different codes on the same day in the download!
LEARNING ABOUT NAVIGATING BY THE STARS
(Aka great talking points for you while you are engaged in this hands-on kids STEM activity)
GPS versus the Stars. Most of our navigation on Earth now uses GPS satellites. Each time we want to know our location we ping four satellites that all send signals back, and where those signals converge gives us our position within feet. So why even learn how to navigate by the stars? Military personnel learn to navigate by the stars so that they can get home without giving off any signals. Celestial navigation also can’t be jammed like satellites can. The only time we can’t navigate by the stars is if clouds bar our view!
Boeing 747 Sextant Port. Early versions of the Boeing 747 had a window port in the cockpit roof to view the stars and navigate using a sextant. In fact, until the late 1990s aircraft navigation by Sextants was more reliable than doing such by satellites!
Discovering the Americas. Christopher would never have sailed out of sight of land if it weren’t for celestial navigation. Before sextants and the method of navigating by the stars were developed sailors feared straying too far from land because of the possibility of getting lost at sea, without the ability to return.
Trigonometry to the rescue. I often hear moans and groans when it comes to trigonometry, with many people feeling like it is completely useless. But trigonometry makes celestial navigation possible. And with that comes all of the discoveries and travels before modern day. Celestial navigation uses angle measurements to determine your location.